Wednesday, April 05, 2006

ATH: Big Air

Air Guitar: Skateboarder Jumps From Hard Rock Casino
Danny Way Follows Leap Across China's Great Wall With a Vegas Spectacular
By NANCY CHANDROSS, April 5, 2006

He says he's not a "crazy guy" trying to "freak people out," but skateboarder Danny Way is about to do something pretty outrageous.

The professional skateboarder is preparing to jump more than 20 feet from the neck of the guitar outside the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Thursday night and land on a massive ramp while breaking the world record for a "Big Air" jump. The current world record stands at 12 feet, 3 inches.

"I'm a little bit of a daredevil, so I do have that fire that burns," said Way by telephone as he prepared for the Vegas event. "I like to see what I'm capable of."

Those who follow skateboarding closely know he's capable of plenty.

The 31-year-old is an X Games gold medalist and has a string of firsts on his bio: a world record in distance jumps and the distinction of being the only person to jump from a helicopter on a skateboard. His last high-profile event had him skateboarding across the Great Wall of China.

Despite these accomplishments, he does have his share of jitters for the Hard Rock stunt. "I get pretty nervous. I mean, I am human," said Way. "I've got a family, a wife and two kids."

Skateboarding Physicist
Before he could conquer the Great Wall or consider leaping from a giant Fender Stratocaster guitar, Way knew he first had to nail a math problem.

Hanging out on a skateboard and crunching numbers may sound like an odd mix of hobbies, but he learned early on that when it comes to vertical skating it's all about physics.

"When I was about 11 years old, I built my first ramp in my backyard, learned about dimensions and G-force and angles … and all the geometry that goes into the success of any design of a ramp."

Since then he has pushed the sport by building larger ramps and achieving higher jumps in competition. But even with math and science on his side these are high-risk activities, leaving the skateboard star with a long list of injuries.

Way has had such a rough time of it, he actually struggled to recall precisely how many surgeries he's had in the past five years from skateboarding injuries, saying it was about "nine or 10."

"I've been injured so many times in my life I just cherish the times in my life when I'm not," said Way.

During a practice run for his successful jump across the Great Wall last year, he fell and badly injured an ankle. "There's no history, there's nothing I can look at to go by, so my calculations are just based on my experience," said Way.

While lots of people would probably call it a day after so many injuries, Way is not looking to park his board just yet. And his goals are surprisingly normal for the crowd he rolls with.

Joining him for the event in Las Vegas is pro skater Bob Buhrnquist, who just finished his own unique stunt. "He was out in Arizona last week and built a ramp into the Grand Canyon with a rail," said Way. "We're looking around going 'Hey, you're crazy. No, you're crazy!'"

Rock 'n' Roll, Safely
He's made a career out of death-defying leaps but is careful to remind that he is an athlete.

To prepare for his jump in Las Vegas, Way built a prototype of the ramp in the California desert where he could practice. "I don't think people necessarily think skateboarders are that strict," said Way. "The training is just a regimen for me now. … Every day I work out to some extent and my diet's a huge part of my training." Getting that message across is part of what motivates him to tackle high-profile jumps.

"I've been skateboarding my whole life, and I look at all the exposure other sports get," said Way. "If I can be a guy that can contribute to the success of the sport and draw more attention to it -- I feel like I'm doing my part."

And despite the approach of his 32nd birthday next week, he'll keep doing this for the near future. "I want to do as much as I can for as long as I can," said Way. "I don't know when that day is going to come that I'll say, 'Hey it's time to pull the reins back or mellow out.'

"I'm in good shape, but I just hope my ambition doesn't take me somewhere dangerous. … I just hope it doesn't do some damage that I can't repair," said Way.

Ultimately, he joked his biggest nerves are probably aimed at his kids. He has 7- and 4-year-old boys and admitted when they take risks and get hurt he gets "super freaked out."

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